Five years after call to add Indigenous rights to citizenship guide, no changes made
Published Monday, February 15, 2021 4:24AM EST
A mother holds the hands of her daughter as they become new Canadians and take the Oath of Citizenship on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 17, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)
OTTAWA -- More than five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the federal government to revise the Canadian citizenship oath and exam guide, newcomers still study a book that contains a single paragraph on residential schools and they take an oath that doesn't refer to treaties with Indigenous Peoples.
Calls for action Nos. 93 and 94 in the commission's final report in December 2015 called on the government to update the citizenship guide and oath to reflect a more inclusive history of Indigenous Peoples and a recognition of their treaties and rights.
The Liberal government introduced a new law in October to adopt a revised oath of citizenship that will have new Canadians swear to faithfully observe the country's treaties with Indigenous Peoples. Two previous versions of the law died with the 2019 election.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told the House of Commons Indigenous and northern affairs committee last month that his department is consulting with national Indigenous organizations to revise the citizenship guide to include more information.
The five largest Indigenous organizations in the country told The Canadian Press that they have not been involved in any formal consultations recently with the government on the new guide. The organizations are the Assembly of First Nations, the Metis National Council, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Native Women's Association of Canada.
AFN Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras said Indigenous Peoples' history and culture should be reflected in the materials that newcomers study to become citizens.
"Absolutely, (the citizenship guide) should be changed," she said in an interview.
"Education is key -- about who we are, how we existed here and welcomed the newcomers here, signed treaties, then had to deal with residential schools."
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said his organization worked with the Immigration Department in 2017 and 2018 on a new guide, but work has stopped.
The AFN asked the department in 2018 to seek out First Nations historians to ensure inclusion of First Nations content in the guide.
"Officials from (the department) have been in touch with AFN recently to discuss next steps and to share a new version of the guide. A meeting has not yet been scheduled," the AFN said in a statement.
The department said in a statement the new citizenship guide will be published "as soon as we can," noting that a launch date for the new guide has not been set.
Clement Chartier, the president of the Metis National Council, said his organization received a draft of the revised guide on May 3, 2018.
"Since then, I've not seen anything," Chartier said.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said her party shares concerns about the slow progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls for action.
She said the government's introduction of Bill C-8 to revise the oath of citizenship came too late.
"This is the third time in which this bill has come before Parliament, and each time prior to this the government's chosen to introduce the bill so late in the day," she said.
Kwan said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has talked recently about the possibility of having an early federal election.
"Will Bill C-8 once again be railroaded and not be completed?" she said.
Poitras is worried C-8 would die in Parliament if an election is called, since that wipes the legislative agenda clean.
"I'm hearing that there's another election and they still kind of go back and forth about the semantics of it," she said,
"It's not going to go anywhere again."
The department said Mendicino is grateful to the parliamentary committee members for voting to sending C-8 back to the House of Commons for third reading he looks forward to seeing it pass through the Senate and become law as soon as possible.
Conservative Indigenous services critic Gary Vidal said it's unfortunate that the Liberals once again seem to be missing an opportunity to act.
"The Liberal government has been big on promises of reconciliation but slow on action," he said.
Lorraine Whitman, the president of Native Women's Association of Canada, said she was invited to testify on Bill C-8 last week, only two days before the committee meeting.
"It would have been nice to be able to be included prior to it," she said.
National Chief Elmer St. Pierre of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said his organization was not consulted on any of the new laws the government has put forward to advance the rights and the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples.
"I was able to speak for six minutes on the citizenship," he said referring to his testimony at the committee meeting on Bill C-8.
"We weren't really informed and it was kind of like the 11th hour when they gave us the opportunity to talk," he said.
Poitras said all political parties should work together to pass Bill C-8 quickly.
"Make this a non-partisan issue," she said.
"If Canada is really serious about addressing systemic racism and dealing with truth and reconciliation, they would honour those recommendations and move forward with this legislation to receive royal assent."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.